Message from the Chairman

10 April 2020

COVID-19, the disease resulting from the novel SAR-CoV-2 coronavirus, is an unprecedented challenge in the modern world, for communities and their governments, public health, and science.

Hong Kong has been at the forefront of this global race to control the pandemic, with its critical mass of scientists focused on emerging infectious diseases and lessons learned from the SARS outbreak that so severely impacted the city in 2003. This has put it in a unique position to deliver impactful research, clinical and public health strategies, and relevant technology advances. Indeed, Google Scholar reveals as many as 1,640 articles related to COVID-19 that include a Hong Kong author published in the first 100 days since Chinese officials alerted the World Health Organisation to the novel coronavirus.

In this special Croucher newsletter, we have investigated Hong Kong’s contribution, talked to some of the leading virologists, microbiologists and epidemiologists, sought expert opinion on the implications for mental health, and public health education, and compiled a round-up of COVID-19 research outputs from different universities in the city.

In our lead feature, Hong Kong and Mainland China government COVID-19 adviser Professor Gabriel Leung, and Professor Ben Cowling (Croucher Senior Research Fellow 2015), co-director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, discuss the latest epidemiological research that informs government strategies in tackling the pandemic.

Separately, virologists and SARS pioneers Professor Malik Peiris (Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowship 2005) and Professor Leo Poon relate their pursuit of testing, diagnostics, and the infectivity of COVID-19; endeavours that are helping to put Hong Kong at the forefront of these vital aspects of managing the disease’s spread. Meanwhile, working beyond Hong Kong, virologist Dr Nicholas Wu (Croucher Fellowship 2015), at The Scripps Research Institute in California, is collaborating with University of Hong Kong researchers in the search for a vaccine for COVID-19.

The legacy of SARS and the preparations for subsequent outbreaks, such as COVID-19, are related along with early containment measures in a specially written column by Hong Kong government adviser Professor David Hui. In addition, an interview with former Chinese University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Professor Joseph Sung (Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowship 2004, Croucher Fellowship 1988) recalls the lasting impact of managing SARS and how it led him to establish the Stanley Ho Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which is now providing important research on non-respiratory routes of transmission and screening for COVID-19.

On the psychological front, behavioural neuroscientist Professor Nick Rawlins offers expert opinion on the implications for mental health and steps to alleviate anxiety. We also show, in our round-up of COVID-19 research outputs from across the city’s publicly funded universities, how Hong Kong’s technologists, Chinese medicine specialists, animal health academics and educationalists, among other fields, are responding to the crisis. 

The new pathogen is a sombre reminder that we share this planet with all forms of life, and that we survive or perish through the driving force of our immune system. Medical and scientific research have to be at the forefront in the preservation of humanity at times like this.

I am proud that the Croucher Foundation plays a small role in this endeavour. But above all, I am immensely proud that Hong Kong’s scientists and physician scientists are standing out internationally for their pioneering work in identifying, understanding, and how to control the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the COVID-19 infectious disease it has caused.

Professor Tak Wah Mak, F.R.S.C., F.R.S.

Chairman, Croucher Foundation